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Jacob Bronowski quotes (showing 1-23 of 23)

“It is important that students bring a certain ragamuffin, barefoot irreverence to their studies; they are not here to worship what is known, but to question it.”
Jacob Bronowski, The Ascent of Man
“It's said that science will dehumanize people and turn them into numbers. That's false, tragically false. Look for yourself. This is the concentration camp and crematorium at Auschwitz. This is where people were turned into numbers. Into this pond were flushed the ashes of some four million people. And that was not done by gas. It was done by arrogance, it was done by dogma, it was done by ignorance. When people believe that they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality, this is how they behave. This is what men do when they aspire to the knowledge of gods.

Science is a very human form of knowledge. We are always at the brink of the known; we always feel forward for what is to be hoped. Every judgment in science stands on the edge of error and is personal. Science is a tribute to what we can know although we are fallible. In the end, the words were said by Oliver Cromwell: "I beseech you in the bowels of Christ: Think it possible you may be mistaken."

I owe it as a scientist to my friend Leo Szilard, I owe it as a human being to the many members of my family who died here, to stand here as a survivor and a witness. We have to cure ourselves of the itch for absolute knowledge and power. We have to close the distance between the push-button order and the human act. We have to touch people.”
Jacob Bronowski
“Man masters nature not by force, but by understanding”
Jacob Bronowski
“Every animal leaves traces of what it was; man alone leaves traces of what he created.”
Jacob Bronowski
“Has there ever been a society which has died of dissent? Several have died of conformity in our lifetime.” Jacob Bronowski in Science and Human Values”
Jacob Bronowski, Science & Human Values
“There is no absolute knowledge. And those who claim it, whether they are scientists or dogmatists, open the door to tragedy.”
Jacob Bronowski, The Ascent of Man
“Science, like art, is not a copy of nature but a re-creation of her.”
Jacob Bronowski, Science & Human Values
“This is the concentration camp and crematorium at Auschwitz. This is where people were turned into numbers. Into this pond were flushed the ashes of some four million people. And that was not done by gas. It was done by arrogance. It was done by dogma. It was done by ignorance. When people believe that they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality, this is how they behave.”
Jacob Bronowski, The Ascent of Man
“Many theories of the ancient world seem terribly childish today, a hodge-podge of fables and false comparisons.But our theories will seem childish five-hundred years from now.Every theory is based on some analogy, and sooner or later the theory fails because the analogy turns out to be false. A theory in its day helps to solve the problems of the day.”
Jacob Bronowski, The Ascent of Man
“The act of imagination is the opening of the system so that it shows new connections. Every act of act of imagination is the discovery of likenesses between two things which were thought unlike. An example is Newton’s thinking of the likeness between the thrown apple and moon sailing majestically in the sky. Hence, the ‘discovery’ of the laws of gravity.”
Jacob Bronowski
“The world can only be grasped by action, not by contemplation. The hand is the cutting edge of man.”
Jacob Bronowski
“The poem or the discovery exists in two moments of vision: the moment of appreciation as much as that of creation; for the appreciator must see the movement, wake to the echo which was started in the creation of the work. In the moment of appreciation we live again the moment when the creator saw and held the hidden likeness. When a simile takes us aback and persuades us together, when we find a juxtaposition in a picture both odd and intriguing, when a theory is at once fresh and convincing, we do not merely nod over someone else's work. We re-enact the creative act, and we ourselves make the discovery again...

...Reality is not an exhibit for man's inspection, labeled: "Do not touch." There are no appearances to be photographed, no experiences to be copied, in which we do not take part. We re-make nature by the act of discovery, in the poem or in the theorem. And the great poem and the deep theorem are new to every reader, and yet are his own experiences, because he himself re-creates them. They are the marks of unity in variety; and in the instant when the mind seizes this for itself, in art or in science, the heart misses a beat.”
Jacob Bronowski
“The values by which we are to survive are not rules for just and unjust conduct, but are those deeper illuminations in whose light justice and injustice, good and evil, means and ends are seen in fearful sharpness of outline.”
Jacob Bronowski
“Dream or nightmare, we have to live our experience as it is, and we have to live it awake. We live in a world which is penetrated through and through by science and which is both whole and real. We cannot turn it into a game simple by taking sides.”
Jacob Bronowski
“The richness of human life is that we have many lives; we live the events that do not happen (and some that cannot) as vividly as those that do; and if thereby we die a thousand deaths, that is the price we pay for living a thousand lives.”
Jacob Bronowski
“And when we describe it as I shall do, it becomes plain that imagination is a specifically human gift. To imagine is the characteristic act, not of the poet's mind, or the painter's, or the scientist's, but of the mind of man.”
Jacob Bronowski
“Fifty years from now if an understanding of man's origins, his evolution, his history, his progress is not in the common place of the school books we shall not exist.”
Jacob Bronowski, The Ascent of Man
“[John] Dalton was a man of regular habits. For fifty-seven years he walked out of Manchester every day; he measured the rainfall, the temperature—a singularly monotonous enterprise in this climate. Of all that mass of data, nothing whatever came. But of the one searching, almost childlike question about the weights that enter the construction of these simple molecules—out of that came modern atomic theory. That is the essence of science: ask an impertinent question, and you are on the way to the pertinent answer.”
Jacob Bronowski, The Ascent of Man
“Yet, the principle of uncertainty is a bad name. In science or outside of it, we are not uncertain. Our knowledge is merely confined within a certain tolerance. We should call it the principle of tolerance. First in the engineering sense. Science has progressed, step by step, the most successful enterprise in the ascent of man, because it has understood that the exchange of information between man and nature, and man and man, can only take place with a certain tolerance. But I also use the word, passionately, about the real world. All knowledge, all information, between human beings, can only be exchanged within a play of tolerance, and that's whether it's in science, or in literature, or in religion, or in politics, or in any form of though that aspires to dogma.”
Jacob Bronowski
“we must always remember that the real content of evolution (biological as well as cultural) is the elaboration of new behaviour.”
Jacob Bronowski, The Ascent of Man
“Progress is the exploration of our own error. Evolution is a consolidation of what have always begun as errors. And errors are of two kinds: errors that turn out to be true and errors that turn out to be false (which are most of them). But they both have the same character of being an imaginative speculation. I say all this because I want very much to talk about the human side of discovery and progress, and it seems to me terribly important to say this in an age in which most non-scientists are feeling a kind of loss of nerve.”
Jacob Bronowski, The Origins of Knowledge and Imagination
“I am infinitely saddened to find myself suddenly surrounded in the west by a sense of terrible loss of nerve, a retreat from knowledge into–into what? Into Zen Buddhism; into falsely profound questions … into extrasensory perception and mystery. They do not lie along the line of what we are now able to know if we devote ourselves to it: an understanding of man himself.”
Jacob Bronowski, The Ascent of Man
“All those formal systems, in mathematics and physics and the philosophy of science, which claim to give foundations for certain truth are surely mistaken. I am tempted to say that we do not look for truth, but for knowledge. But I dislike this form of words, for two reasons. First of all, we do look for truth, however we define it, it is what we find that is knowledge. And second, what we fail to find is not truth, but certainty; the nature of truth is exactly the knowledge that we do find.”
Jacob Bronowski


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